Black History Month 2016 – #ReadSoulLit

Hello all!  Yes Black History Month is just around the corner.  This February Danielle from OneSmallPaw and I are hosting a read along of a great American classic called Jubilee by Margaret Walker and a #ReadSoulLit photo challenge over on Instagram.  We’ve tried to make the photo challenge more engaging, with the hopes of seeing lots of new titles being  pictured; henceforth, showing the wide range of fantastic black authors and genres in which they write.  So I hope you’ll all try and join in for something at some point. If you don’t have Instagram you can follow me here to see what I post over there, but with a bit more explanation.  Don’t forget to link #ReadSoulLit when you post your pictures on Instagram and Twitter.  That helps people find us.  Currently, there are 900+ photos on Instagram, which should spark everyone’s interest in reading black authors.  Happy reading in February!

jubilee

 

ReadSoulLit2016

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

Fever

Saturday I met with my book club to discuss, Fever by Mary Beth Keane.  Fever takes the reader to the turn of the Fevertwentieth century in New York.  There we follow the life of Mary Mallon, alias Typhoid Mary.  She was a carrier of typhoid although she was never sick with it.  It was believed that she transmitted typhoid to victims through her cooking.

Now when I first read what this book was about I was immediately sold on reading it.  I had heard of Typhoid Mary but I couldn’t remember if it was at school or somewhere else.  So, I figured I’d learn more about Mary Mallon and more about typhoid.  Needless to say, I got a two-dimensional Mary Mallon and a highly developed story about immigrant life in New York.  If anything, the later was the best and only true historical part of the book in my opinion.  The descriptions of what immigrants were living at that time were vivid, informative, and contained some historical events. The first half of the book is a repetition of how Mary doesn’t accept what’s she’s been told about how she transmits typhoid.  Other than that nothing happens.  Most of what is written in the book about Mary’s character and the people she meets isn’t true and that’s where I can’t see how the book is marketed as a historical fiction.  The reader doesn’t even get any scientific explanations about typhoid or details on the doctor’s research either.  Among all of this the character of Mary Mallon is not really dealt with.  Her character is brash and unlikable, coupled with the story being told in third person throughout ninety percent of book, which doesn’t help the reader to be the least bit sympathetic to her cause.

Allegedly, there is no concrete information on Mary Mallon, except one letter which was written to her lawyer.  Despite this the author couldn’t seem to develop Mary Mallon’s character other than in repetition and in situations that were highly unbelievable for the time.  As a matter of fact, not much of what the author tried to get us to believe about Mary had been written well enough for us to really believe her.  Keane had over developed the story and left Mary Mallon as a blank cardboard cut out.  The two just didn’t link correctly.  Thank goodness it was a fast enough read and the style engaging enough, despite repetition of the word shit and grand.  This is a clear case of an author using  a real person to centralize and market her story but in fact the story isn’t really about Mary Mallon.  Undoubtedly, the best part of the book is the second half.  It comes together a lot better than the first half, however I’ve only given Fever two stars over on Goodreads because it doesn’t correspond to what is expected of it.

Mary Beth Keane was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award with her first novel, The Walking People.   Fever, was Mary_Beth_Keanebest book of 2013 by NPR Books, Library Journal, and The San Francisco Chronicle.  Keane was chosen as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Program in 2011.  “The 5 Under 35 program honors five young fiction writers selected by past National Book Award Winners and Finalists, or previous 5 Under 35 Honorees.  The program has introduced the next generation of writers, including Téa Obreht, Karen Russell, and Justin Torres.” (nationalbook.org)

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

Live Show Discussion – Some Sing, Some Cry

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 5

Day 5 – A historical fiction:

Historical fiction is a genre I usually enjoy reading so I thought it would be easy to choose something from my shelves.  Well it really took time.  In the end, I decided on Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.  This controversial novel definitely got people talking.  I remember reading some rich blog posts about it and those were what convinced me to read it.

Perkins-Vladez has painted a story that focuses quite closely on slavery in a way that hasn’t been explored IMG_1345in literary fiction before. This is mainly because of the taboo nature of the novel. She was inspired to write this book after reading the biography of W.E.B. Dubois where he mentioned slave masters taking their slave mistresses to a resort in Ohio. So, Tawawa House really existed. Although she could never find any documented specific stories about this place, she began to imagine what it would be like to be one of those slave mistresses. It’s a known fact that these unusual arrangements were existent and widespread among slave owners, but the resort adds a new facet, which allowed her to explore and focus on the slave mistresses.

“Six slaves sat in a triangle, three women, three men, the men half nestled in the sticky heat of thighs, straining their heads away from the pain of the tightly woven ropes. The six chatted softly among themselves, about the Ohio weather, about how they didn’t mind it because they all felt they were better suited to this climate.  They were guarded in their speech, as if the long stretch between them and the resort property were just a Juba dance away.” (opening paragraph of Wench, p. 3)

In the Shadow of the Banyan

13057939I read In the Shadow of the Banyan at the beginning of the month.  It took me three and a half days to read but then plunged me into a week + worth of thought.  We’re nearing the close of the month of May and I still can’t get this book off my mind.  I figure my reading for the month of May was all worth it because I had the pleasure of experiencing my second 5 star book of the year 2014.  Now if you’ve been following me here or over at frenchiedee you know that I absolutely don’t have a habit of giving out 5 star ratings.

In the Shadow of the Banyan is the fictionalised story of Vaddey Ratner’s four-year ordeal living through the genocide that took place in Cambodia once the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975.  The main character is called Raami and she is seven years old when the story begins.  The first few chapters we are introduced to her family and their lifestyle.  They are a wealthy and privileged family.  They are a royal family in Cambodia and her father is a poet as well.  Soon there after we learn that the Khmer Rouge have taken over the country and are driving the population from the city to the countryside.  There they are made to work in the rice paddies, surviving on little food.  The Khmer Rouge are enforcing Marxist philosophy on the population and forcing them to forget life as it was before.  People of privilege, professors, scientists, teachers, artists, musicians, etc. are hunted down and killed.  They are perceived as enemies to the Organization.

This story is more than just a retelling of a historical event and of Ratner’s experience.  It is a story of human survival.  I’m sure every reader of this novel wonders how they would behave if they had to go through such a situation.  I thought through it so much and feel as though I would have caved in and hoped for a swift death.  Ratner shows the limits of human beings and how survival is not necessarily dictated by what one may think.  Raami thinks a lot of her father, the things she remembers that he said to her, and of his poetry.  Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can help someone to survive.

The writing in In the Shadow of the Banyan is absolutely beautiful!  That Ratner could write such beautiful prose about such a blight on Cambodian history and on her family is remarkable.  Since we see this story through the eyes of a seven year old, things are recounted with much detail.  This detail may be perceived as wordy but I assure you that it is not the case.  The descriptions are there so that we as readers are literally transported to Cambodia.  We see, feel, and taste what Raami describes.  There were passages that were difficult to read, but Ratner’s writing becomes a metaphor for the insidious behaviour of the Khmer Rouge. In the beginning the people don’t understand what is happening to them but quickly things change and they realise they are trapped in horror.  Even Raami develops over the 410 pages tremendously.  In the beginning, she is naive young and joyful despite her handicap, but her character development is portrayed with the right flow of the story.

Another interesting aspect of this story is the relationship between mother and daughter in such a traumatic life/death event.  Their relationship at the beginning of the story seems fairly undefined but thrown into the uncertainty of this historical event, mother and daughter learn a lot about each other and marvel over each others’ strengths.  This is one of the most touching parts of the story.  I just can’t gush enough over this novel.  It’s a must read.  Pick this one up because you won’t regret it.  Check out Vaddey Ratner below talking about In the Shadow of the Banyan.

 

Kindred

60931

Kindred takes place in 1976 and in 1815.  Dana a young African-American woman periodically experiences dizziness and black outs which enable her to go back in time to 1815.  The experience of going back to the slave days is shocking and terrible for her in the beginning.  She is extremely distressed since she has no idea how this happens.  Divided between the fear of having to live life as a slave and helping Rufus, who she saves from drowning on her first trip, she is driven down a perilous journey of truth about her family and herself that will change her and her husband Kevin forever.

Kindred reads as a historical fiction novel with a twist of science-fictional time traveling.  I never thought these two could work so well in a novel but they do.  The novel is written in a simple style, and reads very quickly.  However, Butler delves deeply into themes like race, violence, family, and home in a manner that is quite intense .  In addition, she explores the theme of power and how it can become a  corrupt tool of  influence and cruel manipulation.

The first quarter of the book we are trying to understand like Dana, how and why this is happening.  Unfortunately, that is never really addressed, so quickly what will happen to Dana and how she relates to all the different people on the plantation becomes the primary plot of the novel.  Things get messier when Kevin, her white husband grabs on to her and winds up back in slavery times with her.  The awkwardness of the situation is frightening.  There Butler makes Dana and Kevin face this difficulty head on like a slap in the face.  The mounting tension and horrific violence from whippings, rapes, hangings, and dog attacks, Butler is forcing the reader to see the reality of the time period along with Dana.  Many times I kept putting myself in Dana’s shoes and wondering how I’d react.

Dana was a trooper in the beginning trying to think of everything and to prepare for things, but what she didn’t realise is that she fell slowly but surely into the role of a sort of modern-day Mamie.  She is bound to the past not only physically but mentally since she seems unable to break the link between herself and Rufus.  We see Rufus grow from and innocent boy into an unsparing, conniving man.  A man who is meant to run a plantation although he does it through being cruel and by making people fear him.  Dana finally grows at the end with much difficulty and mostly because she feels she understands what she sees happening in 1815 more than she really does.  The trap is there.  The psychological manipulation that Rufus uses on her his criminal.

If you haven’t read this story you should definitely check it out.  Octavia E. Butler really knew how to turn a story and this one has many twists and turns that will make every reader think.  Butler began writing at 10 and writing science-fiction at 12.  Her love for writing came out of her boredom for she was an only child.  It was the science-fiction movie Devil Girl from Mars which made her attempt to write science-fiction.  She was quoted as saying she knew she could write a better story and that she did.  Happily for us, Butler overcame dyslexia and went on to write many novels and short stories, such as Fledgling, Lilith’s Brood, and Parable Seed.  She won the Hugo Award twice, once in 1984 for best short story with Speech Sounds and in 1985 for best novelette with Bloodchild.  She also won the Nebula award twice for best novel, once for best short story, and best novelette.  In 2010, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.  Does it sound like I’m pushing Butler?  Yes, I am.  Well the next Butler book I’ll be picking up will be Fledgling.  I’m dying to see how she wrote about vampires and I’m not that keen on vampire stories either.  To be continued…..  Check out the link below to hear more about Octavia E. Butler.  Brilliant!

The Reader

101299The Reader has garnished my shelves now for about three years and I have finally gotten a chance to enjoy it.  If anything it’s made me want to review all the unread books on my shelves and to get cracking on them.  This novel has been talked about here and there over the years but I’ve never heard any of my book buddies talk about it.  I feel it’s a hidden jewel that everybody should try to possess.

Michael Berg becomes ill one day on his way home from school when Hanna picks him up and cleans him off.  She is twice his age and he is only fifteen years old.  Michael continues to go back to visit Hanna and they carry on a love affair for a while.  As time goes on, the complexities of Hanna start to show, but Michael is virtually incapable of any analysis of this mysterious woman and her ways, who awakens his sexuality, his senses, as he becomes a man.

The novel is told in first person which makes it personal, as if a friend is telling his story.  The narrator is a very reliable source because he’s very honest about some very personal private emotions that sometimes aren’t too flattering.  The Reader is erotic, melancholic, hopeful, and infuriating.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that put me through so many profound emotions.  At times I felt like a voyeur.  Schlink was a master at writing this story because it contains all the aspects of what’s needed to make a perfectly balanced.  Nothing is done for sensationalism.  Every scene has its reason for existing.

Schlink also did an excellent job exploring how the generation of World War II born during or right after the war must have felt and how the collective conscience tries to adapt.  The guilt was terribly heavy and doubt was looming over friends but especially family – wondering to what extent they had participated in the war or to what degree did their silence cost lives.  It’s terrifying having had to face such heavy actions.  This theme is carried right through the book when Michael deals with different characters, his father included.

The Reader was translated into 37 languages and won a few awards including the Hans Fallada Prize (awarded every two years to a young author from the German speaking world since 1981) in 1988, while being the first German book to top the The New York Times bestselling books list.  The film adaptation lead to Kate Winslet winning an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Hanna Schmitz.  Bernhard Schlink has written many books including non-fiction and crime novels.  He was born in Bethel, Germany in 1944 although he was brought up in Heidelberg and worked as a professor of law at the University of Berlin and later became a judge.  The Reader was his first novel that was translated into English in 1997.  Watch the link below to find out more about how and why he wrote The Reader.  He’s a very interesting speaker.

Title: The Reader

Genre:  Historical Fiction/German literature/World War II Holocaust

Published:  1995 – 1997 translated to English

Edition:  Vintage International

Pages:  218

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2

+4,968

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

7935678It is 1917 and Rachel and Isaac have been married for fourteen years.  They left Chicago to settle in the South Dakota Badlands to farm a large quantity of land bought together.  Rachel and Isaac’s love and family grow through harsh winters, excessive droughts, and back-breaking chores while trying to raise children and make a living from the land.  This was not a typical lifestyle for African-Americans at that time.

Isaac is a strong terribly ambitious ex-buffalo soldier with an extreme hatred for the Native American Indian.  Rachel is a naive, worn down woman who is seeking love, family, and her own home.  They enter into their marriage as a contract both hoping to get what they desire, where the harsh South Dakota Badlands puts them both to the test.

The setting of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree is stark and lonely.  This black family is not only isolated by their location but by their race as well.  They are the only blacks farming in this area and their nearest neighbours are white and at least five miles away. Loneliness and isolation are omnipresent.  Weisgarber got the idea for this novel after seeing a picture of a black woman in front of a sod dugout during one of her trips through the Badlands.  She felt that it was disappointing that this bit of African-American history had been ignored and began writing The Personal History of Rachel DuPree.  This book has a myriad of themes running through it such as racism, feminism, farming life, family, marriage, and the list goes on.  It would make an excellent book club choice.  There is a lot to discuss.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers and longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009.  The Winner was An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay.  The is was an excellent start for Ann Weisgarber as a first novel.  The topic was unusual and attempted in an interesting manner.  In spite of that, I felt that it was strange how I didn’t really feel much for Rachel or any other character in the novel.  I must admit I started to fill better about her by the end of the story.  The best described character in the novel was Mrs. DuPree, Isaac’s mother.  She was a stern, ambitious, mean-spirited, nasty piece of work.  She brought some life to the book though.  You could almost imagine what she looked like.  I enjoyed the chapter on Ida B. Wells-Barnett (the first African-American journalist writing articles defending blacks and women), which was an excellent way of Weisgarber setting Rachel’s standards and expectations of life.  It helped me understand more about why she made the quick decision in the first place to marry Isaac DuPree.  In the end, I was glad to have read it, but I felt as if this book was missing something that I couldn’t seem to put my finger on.

Ann Weisgarber was born and raised in Ohio.  She has a Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Social Work and Sociology. She lives in Texas.  She and her husband love the outdoors and visiting national parks.  Her second novel The Promise was just released in March 2013.  It is another compelling story with intriguing characters, love, and hidden secrets set in the midst of a natural disaster.

Title: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

Genre:  Historical Fiction/African-American/Women’s

Published:  2008

Edition:  Pan Books

Pages:  307

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * 1/2

+4,530

 

Cutting for Stone

IMG_1614How in the world did I get through 2009 and didn’t read or hear about this book?  It was simply AMAZING!
What’s it about?  Well, it’s about culture, love, separation, devotion, betrayal, family, and so many other things.  It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away the plot and I don’t like writing reviews full of spoilers, but here’s the overall story.

It’s the 1950s in an Ethiopian mission hospital where twin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, are born out of a relationship between a young nun and an English surgeon.  There, the two boys grow up with two very different personalities, while their country is going through much governmental upheaval.  Be ready for meetings with fascinating characters, intriguing situations, beautifully described landscapes, smells of spiced Ethiopian dishes, medical procedures, much sadness, and even a bit of mystery.  All of this and more is recounted through India, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the United States.  In essence, it is a story of separation.  Cutting for Stone is epic, exuberant, a must read,  and even more so, if you are interested in this part of the world.

I could rave on and on about how great this book is but of course nothing is perfect.  Cutting for Stone has a few problems in my opinion.  Firstly, it is very heavy in detailed explanations of medical procedures.  If you’re not the squeamish type you won’t have a problem.  In my case, the birth of the twins had my imagination reeling.  I found that part pretty horrific, unfortunately I have a good imagination when the description is well done.  I pictured the scene a little too well.  However, these medical descriptions are very informative for laypeople.  Lastly, the novel falls down a bit in the first part.  The book consists of four parts.  Interestingly enough, parts 2,3, and 4 are not at all written in the same way as part 1.  I say thank goodness once I started to read part 2 the style had changed, otherwise, Verghese would have lost me forever.  Part 1 is written with a slight pretentiousness. It didn’t seem to entice me directly into the story.  The detail was colossal and overbearing; so distracting at times, I found it hard to decide what to focus on.  It just made me proceed reading cautiously and slower, but it was well worth it because by Chapter 11, which is the beginning of Part 2, I felt a welcome shift to the story.  The writing style was more literary and sensitive to my liking.  Sometimes as readers we have to work a little to enjoy the full extent of the reading experience of some books.  This is a good reason not to give up too quickly.  (Part 2 started on page 113.)

Abraham Verghese was born in Ethiopia in 1955.  His Indian parents were working as teachers in Ethiopia then.  Verghese began his medical training near Addis Ababa.  He later joined his parents in the United States to continue his studies after Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted from power in Ethiopia.  Being a foreign medical graduate at the end of his studies, he only found internships in less popular hospitals and communities.  He wrote about these experiences in his first articles in the New Yorker.  They were called The Cowpath to America.  Verghese continued to practice medicine and to write and published two memoirs called The Tennis Partner and My Own Country, where Verghese writes about being a doctor in a small town in eastern Tennessee.  there he and the town are faced with their first AIDS patient.  The Tennis Partner is about a very close relationship between a doctor and a recovering drug addict intern.  The ritual of playing tennis brings them closer together.  Empathy for the patient and bedside medicine are issues Verghese felt have been stifled among medical training.  He was asked to join Stanford University in 2007 as a tenured professor because of his interest in bedside medicine and his work as a reputable clinician.  Cutting for Stone is fiction, but the theme of patient empathy is a strong element that Verghese emphasizes in many instances in the story, not to mention, there are some similarities with his life.  Check out the video below because you’ll get an excellent insight into what Verghese was trying to depict in Cutting for Stone, very thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

Title: Cutting for Stone

Genre:  Adult fiction/Historical fiction

Published:  2009

Edition:  Vintage Books

Pages:  534

My Rating: * * * * *

Favorite quote:  “When a man is a mystery to himself you can hardly call him mysterious.” (Cutting for Stone, p. 31)

+732